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The Origin of the Office of 
Poet Laureate 




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THE 



ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE 



OF 



POET LAUREATE. 



BY 



WALTER HAMILTON, Esq., 

Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society aJid of the Royal Historical 

Society. 




PRINTED FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION. 
1879. 



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THE 

ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 

Bv WALTER HAMILTON, Esq., 
Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Historical Society. 

Im a recently published work the author has presented 
biographical details of the Poets Laureate of England ; the 
object of this paper is to place before the Royal Historical 
Society in a concise form all the reliable information he has 
obtained as to the origin of the office. From the appointment 
of Chaucer about five hundred years have elapsed, and during 
that period a long line of poets have held the title of Laureate. 
I-^or the first two hundred years they were somev^hat irregularly 
appointed, but from the creation of Richard Edwards in 1561, 
they come down to the present time without interruption. 

The selection of the Laureate has not always been a wise 
one, but the list contains the names of a few of our greatest 
authors, and the honour was certainly worthily bestowed upon 
Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Robert 
Southey, William Wordsworth, and Alfred Tennyson. As 
the custom of crowning successful poets appears to have been 
in use since the origin of poetry itself, the office of Poet 
Laureate can certainly boast of considerable antiquity, and the 
laurel wreath of the Greeks and Romans was an envied trophy 
long before our Druidical forefathers held aloft the mistletoe 
bough in their mystic rites. 

From what foreign nation we first borrowed the idea of a 
King of the Poets is doubtful, but in order to fully understand 
the title and the office as we now possess them, it is necessary 
to examine the traditions of other European countries, where 
the knowledge of letters existed, prior to their introduction 



2 THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 

into this country. The ancient Greeks and Romans in 
their public games and ceremonies crowned their favourite 
bards with laurel. When Domitian held the Capitoline 
Games he himself placed the laurel wreath upon the head 
of the successful author ; Statius was thrice crowned in this 
manner. The custom was observed in Rome until about 
393 A.D., when Theodosius suppressed it as a heathen practice, 
though surely of a harmless description. In the Middle Ages 
the Romans publicly conferred the title of Laureate upon 
Francis Petrarch in 1341, and particulars of the ceremonies 
then observed have been preserved. 

Petrarch visited the court of Robert King of Naples, by 
whom he was much admired, and at whose suggestion he 
underwent an examination in history, literature, and 
philosophy. Having passed through this preliminary ordeal 
with eclat, King Robert wrote to the Roman Senate urging 
them to offer the laurel to Petrarch, and the notification of 
their intention to do so was sent to the poet at Vaucluse, in 
August, 1340. King Robert presented his state robe to 
Petrarch, desiring him to wear it on the day he should be 
crowned ; the poet proceeded to Rome, on the 8th of April, 
1 341, he was publicly crowned on the Capitoline Hill and 
proclaimed Poet Laureate and Historiographer. 

The following was the formula used on the occasion by the 
Count d'Anguillara when he placed the laurel on the poet's 
brow : — 

" We, Count and Senator for us and our College, declare Francis 
Petrarch, great poet and historian, and for a special mark of his 
quality of poet, we have placed with our hands on his head a crown 
of laurel, granting to him by the tenor of these presents, and by the 
authority of King Robert, of the Senate and the people of Rome, in 
the poetic as well as in the historic art, and generally in whatever 
relates to the said arts, as well in this holy city as elsewhere, the free 
and entire power of reading, disputing, and interpreting all ancient 
books, to make new ones, and compose poems, which, God assisting, 
shall endure from age to age." 

Petrarch acknowledged the honour in a sonnet he then 



THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 6 

recited, he placed his chaplct on the hi^h altar of St. Peter's 
Church, and returned home. 

Another equally celebrated Italian Poet Laureate was 
Torquato Tasso, born at Sorrento, near Naples, on the nth 
March, 1544, and educated in the university of Padua. 

His career was a chequered one, his poems brought him 
fame, and he found much favour at the Court of Alfonso, 
Duke of P^rrara, but at times a restless spirit urged him to 
wander about the country in a state bordering upon destitu- 
tion, and finally he became so peculiar in his habits that he 
was for some years detained in a lunatic asylum. On his 
release he resumed his wandering career ; his fame as the 
author of Jernsalevi Delivered had, however, reached Rome, 
and Pope Clement VIIL sent an invitation to Tasso, then at 
Mantua, and in November, 1594, Tasso arrived in Rome, 
where he was received with much distinction by the Pope, 
who intended to confer the laureate crown upon him in the 
Capitol. 

"'I will give to you the laurel crown,' said Clement, 'that it 
may receive as much honour from you as it has conferred upon 
those who have had it before you.' " 

Preparations were made for the ceremony, which was fixed 
to take place on the 25th day of April, 1595, but during the 
winter Tasso's health rapidly declined, and he died on the 
very day appointed for his coronation, in the monastery of 
St. Onofrio, at the age of fifty-two. 

About 1 5 14, Pope Leo X. named a wretched Neapolitan 
poetaster, one Camillo Querno, ArcJiipocta. 

The inauguration was attended by much ceremony, probably 
only intended as a burlesque, but it affected the poet to tears. 
His crown was composed of a spray of the time-honoured 
laurel, with vine leaves, emblematic of Bacchus, God of wine, 
and the fine arts, and cabbage, which, according to an old 
superstition, was an antidote to drunkenness ; history, how- 
ever, records that in this instance it failed to keep the poet 
sober. 



4 THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 

This man appears to have been the butt of the Roman 
nobles, who incited him to repeat one of his works, an almost 
interminable epic poem entitled ^ /^.rz^j- / emboldened by this 
encouragement Ouerno incautiously boasted his power to 
make extempore verses for a thousand poets, when he was 
reminded that he also drank sufficient for a thousand bards as 
good as he. 

" Archipoeta facit versus pro mille poetis ! 
Et pro mille aliis archipoeta bibit ! " 

The perquisites allotted to this individual were the leavings 
of the Pope's dishes and flagons, whilst all the circumstances 
of his appointment were so absurd that Englishmen would 
long since have forgotten his name but for Alexander Pope's 
well known lines in the Dunciad : — 

"Not with more glee, by hands Pontific crown'd, 
With scarlet hats wide-waving circled round, 
Rome in her Capitol saw Ouerno sit, 
Throned on seven hills, the Antichrist of wit.'' 

The present Poet Laureate of the kingdom of Italy is Signor 
Giovanni Prati, a poet whose works are greatly admired by 
his countrymen. This gentleman was born at Dascindo, 
January 27, 18 15, he studied law at Padua, and was elected 
a member of the Italian Parliament in 1862. 

In the empire of Germany the office appears to have been 
regularly maintained ; the honour of laureation was usually 
conferred by the State, or by some university, and was by 
no means confined to one poet at a time, as has usually been 
the case in England. Latterly indeed the title was so lavishly 
bestowed by the German Emperors as to bring it into 
contempt, and numerous satires were directed against those 
who received and those who conferred the dignity. 

The first Poet Laureate of the German empire, of whom 
mention can be found, was Conradus Celtes Protuccius, who 
was created by the Emperor Frederick III. about the year 
1466, This Laureate afterwards received a patent from 
Maximilian I., naming him Rector of the College of Poetry 
and Rhetoric in Vienna, with power to confer the laurels on 



THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 5 

approved students. Thus was the office handed down, the 
laurels being conferred either by Imperial anthority under the 
Emperor's own hand, or by the Counts Palatine, or by others 
having official instructions and full authority. The poets were 
crowned with sprays of the tree of their old patron Phoebus, 
and the ceremony was invested with considerable importance. 
Apostolo Zeno (1669-1750), the Venetian composer and father 
of the Italian opera, was one of the most notable men who 
received the title II Poeta Cesareo. 

His successor was the still more celebrated Pietro A. D. B. 
Metastasio (1698-1782), upon whom the Emperor Charles VI, 
conferred the title in 1729, with a pension of 4,000 guil- 
ders. Frederick, another of the German Emperors, presented 
the laurels to Pope Pius II., as a mark of his appreciation of 
that Pontiffs writings. 

The University of Strasbourg enjo}'cd the special privilege 
of creating Laureates, and availed itself of its prerogative with 
more freedom than discrimination. Probably the candidates 
for the laurels had to pay very heavy fees for the honour, which 
was doubtless considered in the light of a diploma, or degree, 
as we find that in the year 1621 no less than three Poets 
Laureate were created. The formula used on the occasion 
by the Chancellor of the University of Strasbourg was as 
follows : — 

" I create you, being placed in a chair of state, crowned with 
laurel and ivy, and wearing a ring of gold, and the same do pronounce 
and constitute, Poets Laureate, in the name of the Holy Trinity, 
the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen." 

John Selden, in his work on " Titles of Honour," gives an 
interesting account of the manner in which the ceremony of 
investing a poet with the laurels was performed at Strasbourg 
in 1616 by the Count Palatine, Thomas Obrechtus. The 
recipient — Joannes Paulus Crusius — attended at the time and 
place appointed by the public proclamation of the Count, and 
the assembly being full, Crusius commenced the proceedings 
by reciting a petitioning epigram. The Count Palatine then 



6 THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 

delivered a long oration in praise of the art of poetry, and 
addressed Crusius in a Latin exordium. Then Crusius 
recited a poem consisting of 300 verses, \\hich were called in 
the ceremony of the creation specimens/;'^? i})ipetranda Lames, 
and were composed upon a subject selected by the candidate. 
Count Obrechtus now displayed his patent as Count Palatine 
granted by the Emperor, citing from it the clause which con- 
ferred the power of creating Poets Laureate. 

Crusius then took an oath of allegiance to the Emperor and 
liis successors, whereupon the Count crowned him with laurels, 
and proclaimed him Poetain ct Vatcni Lattrcatuui. A gold 
ring was placed upon his finger, and the Count made a speech 
exhorting Crusius to uphold the dignity conferred upon him. 
The Laureate replied in another poetical recitation expres- 
sive of his thanks, and of his desire to preserve the honour 
of the office, upon which the ceremony ended, as one would 
imagine to the great delight of the fatigued spectators. 

The French do not appear to have adopted the title of Poet 
Laureate, nor have they applied it to any of their writers. 
Some of their historians have entitled Pierre de Ronsard 
( 1 524-1 586), the Regal poet, but this would seem to ha\e 
been but an idle compliment. 

During the Middle Ages a curious institution existed 
known as Les y£'//,r_^6';'(7//,r, consisting of poetical competitions 
or tournaments, the prizes consisting of flowers fashioned in 
gold and silver. Clemence Lsaure, Countess of Toulouse, 
revived these poetical contests in 1498, which henceforth were 
held annually in May. The conquerors were crov/ncd v\ith 
chaplets of natural flowers, degrees Mere conferred, and he 
who had three times won a prize was created a Docteur en 
goye Scie?iee, the instrument of creation being in verse. 
Clemence Lsaure, by her will, left a sum of money to be 
expended in prizes, which continued to be contested for until 
the floral games were suppressed in 1790. Napoleon re- 
established them in 1806, and the successful poems have been 
published from time to tim.c. These games deri\-cd a certain 
air of importance from the fact that in 1694 Louis XIV. 



THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 7 

granted by letters patent the title of Academy to the floral 
games. (See " Curiosites Litteraires," by L. Lalanne, Paris, 

1857.) _ 

The institution was known as early as 1323 as the College 
du gai Scavoir, or de la gate Science. The title Jciix Jloraux 
appears to have come into use at the time of the revival of 
the ceremonies by the Countess Isaure. Some historians 
have cast doubts on the history of that lady, but the French 
people implicitly believe in the main facts as herein detailed, 
and have erected a statue to her memory in the gardens of 
the Palais du Luxembourg, at Paris, with the inscrij^tion 

Clemence Isaure. 
Foiidatrice des ye?ix Jloraux. 

The title of Poet Laureate is used in Spain as a degree 
conferred by the universities, as it was once in England, 
the University of Seville having, it is said, established that 
custom, 

Cervantes contemptuously alludes to the title in the second 
part of Don Quixote, where he makes Sancho say : — 

" Forgive me, honest Dapple, and entreat fortune in the best terms 
thou canst use, to deliver us from this vexatious misery in which we 
are equally involved ; in which case I promise to put a crown of 
laurel upon thy head, so as thou shalt look like a Poet Laureate ; 
and widial, to give tbee a double allowance of provender," 

To turn our attention to the office as it exists in our own 
islands, we can trace it, under one form or another, back to a 
very remote period. 

From very ancient records it appears that the old Scandi- 
navian nations not only had royal bards, but that the L-ish and 
Welsh kings were constantly attended by their poets. Some 
regulations dating from 940 show that the bards of the Welsh 
kings were domestic officers in the royal household, to each of 
whom the king allowed a horse and a woollen robe, and the 
queen a linen garment. Numerous were the fees and 
privileges enjo}'ed b)- the ro\"al bards in Wales, whilst some of 



8 THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE, 

the duties required were sufficiently singular and quaint. 
Witness the following : — 

" The Governor of the castle was privileged to sit next to him in 
the hall, on the three principal feast days, and to place the harp in 
his hand, and on those days the poet was to receive "the steward's 
robe as a fee. The bard was to sing a song in the queen's chamber 
if desired ; he was to have an ox or a cow from the booty taken 
from the enemy; and when the king's army was in array, he was to 
sing the song of the British kings. When invested with the office 
the king was to present him with a harp (according to some autho- 
rities the gift was a chessboard) of the value of 120 pence, and the 
queen was to give him a ring of gold. When the king rode out of 
the castle, five bards were to accompany him ; if the poet asked a 
favour, or gratuity of the king, he was fined an ode or a poem ; if of 
a nobleman or chief, three ; if of a vassal he was to sing him to 
sleepy 

In 1078 Gryffith ap Conan, King of Wales, placed the bards 
under certain rules and restrictions, at the same time that he 
drew up stringent laws for the protection of their lives and 
property. Thus whoever even slightly injured a bard was to 
be fined six cows and 1 20 pence, whilst the murderer of one 
of these highly prized individuals was to be punished by the 
infliction of a fine of 120 cows. 

An early connection had existed between the Welsh and 
the Irish poets, and many of the regulations in Ireland were 
of a similar character to those observed in Wales, and all 
pointed strongly to the high estimation in which the bards 
wxre held. 

Various circumstances conspired to sweep away these 
customs from England and Ireland, notably the introduction 
of large foreign elements into the population, and the various 
changes in the language. But with the Welsh, remarkable for 
their descent from the early Britons, for the ancient language 
they speak, and for their intense love of nationality, these 
bardic festivities were long preserved in memory of the days 
of bygone greatness. 

The City of London had for many years an officer entitled 



BIRTH. 




DEATH 


— 




1565 


1552 




1598 


Early part 


17th 


century 


— 


.. 


1626 


1554 




^^33 


1573 




1637 


— 




1641 


15S0 




1654 


— 




1658 


1600 




1676 
1685 


1648 


... 


1724 



THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 9 

the Cztf Poet, whose talents were to be devoted to the 
interests of the metropohs and the glorification of its Mayors. 
The following is a list of some of the principal holders of 
the office : — 

John Heywood 
George Peele 

John Webster 

Thomas Middleton 

Anthony Munday ... 

Ben Jonson 

Thomas Dekker 

John Taylor (the Water Poet) 

John Tatham 

John Ogilvy 

Thomas Jordan 

Matthew Taubmann 
Elkanah Settle 

The exact origin of the title of Poet Laureate in England 
is involved in considerable obscurity ; the two greatest authori- 
ties on the point — namely, John Selden, in his "Titles of 
Honour," and Thomas Warton, in his " History of English 
Poetry " — are unable to trace back the appointment to its 
source. 

In the first instance there can be little doubt that the idea 
of conferring honour upon their poets by crowning them was 
imitated by the English from the later Roman Empire. The 
universities conferred the title as a reward for skill in Latin 
versification ; works in the vulgar tongue were not taken into 
consideration. 

Of the university Laureates those of Oxford appear to 
have been the most celebrated. The title or degree was 
accompanied by a wreath of laurel. From the Oxford Uni- 
versity registers it appears that on the 12th day of March, 
15 II, Edward Watson, student in grammar, obtained the 
laurels on the condition that he would compose a Latin poem 
in praise of his university. Li 15 12 Richard Smyth obtained 
the same dignity, subject to his composing 100 Latin hexa- 
meter verses to be affixed to the gates of St. Mary's Church. 



10 THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 

Maurice Byrchenshaw, another Laureate, was desired to 
write the same number of verses, and to promise not to read 
Ovid's "Art of Love" with his pupils. 

The celebrated John Skelton also laureated at Oxford, and 
was permitted to wear the Cambridge laurel and robe as a 
mark of particular favour — honours to which he somewhat 
boastfully refers in his poems. 

" At Oxford, the University, 
Advanced I was to that degree ; 
By whole consent of their Senate, 
I was made Poet Laureate." 

He was also permitted to wear a special robe of white 
and green, the king's colours, decorated with gold and silk 
embroidery, the name of the poetical muse being worked 
upon it, as appears from his own description : — 

" Why were ye, CaUiope, 
Embroider'd with letters of gold ? 
Skelton Laureate, orator regius, 
Maketh this answer : — 
Calliope, 
As ye may see. 

Regent is she of poets all, 
Which gave to me 
The high degree 
Laureate to be of fame royal. 
Whose name enrolled 
With silk and gold 
I dare be bold thus for to wear." 

Robert Whittington was the last recipient of a rhetorical 
degree at O.xford. He wrote some panegyrics on Henry VHL 
and Cardinal Wolsey, but there is no reason to suppose that 
he held the title of Laureate by royal appointment. 

In addition, however, to these university Laureates, there 
had been from time immemorial an officer in the Ro}-al house- 
hold called the King's Poet, or King's Versificator. Of this 
office, and of those who held it, little can be learnt ; no records 
are known to exist of any coronation ceremony on their 
investiture, nor can it be said for what period the office was 
held. The first record of pa\'mcnt to the /\//i^'s Versifier 



THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 11 

occurs as early as 1251, when Henry III. made a grant of loo 
shillings per annum to Henri d'Avranches, a French poet and 
minstrel. These royal bards appear to have composed most 
of their poems in Latin, the first of whom mention is made 
being William Pcregrinus, or "The Foreigner," who accom- 
panied Richard Cceur-de-Lion to the Crusades, and celebrated 
his warlike deeds in a Latin poem dedicated to Stephen 
Turnham, a renowned Crusader. 

Robert Baston held the same appointment under Edward H., 
whom he accompanied to the siege of Stirling. The 
operations inspired Baston with a subject for a poem in Latin 
hexameters ; but he was soon afterwards captured by the 
Scots, who forced him to write an eulogium on Robert Bruce, 
which he also performed in the same language and metre. 
Having thus taken a mild revenge upon the bard, the Scots 
set him at liberty. 

Baston died in 1310. He is usually styled Poet Laureate 
and Oxford Orator. 

Geoffrey Chaucer, the first poet of any eminence who wrote 
in the mother tongue, was styled Poet Laureate by his con- 
temporaries, and received several ro}-al grants and offices. 
He died on the 25th October, 1400, when his friend Sir John 
Gower, a lawyer of some eminence and the author of the 
" Confessio Amantis," appears to have obtained or to have 
assumed the title. 

James L of Scotland, during his captivity in this country, 
cultivated the friendship of these learned men, and in his own 
poem, entitled "The King's Ouhair," speaks respectfully of 
them as "superlative as poetes laureate." 

Sir John Gower died in the autumn of 1408. 

In the time of Edward IV. John Kay was appointed to the 
office, probably by the King himself No poetical works of 
his remain to show what pretensions he had to the title of 
foet, but one book of his survives which is more famous on 
account of its excessi\'e rarity than from any intrinsic merit. 
It is a prose translation of a Latin history of the Siege of 
Rhodes, printed b)- \\\ Caxton in 1490, entitled "The D\!ect- 



12 THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 

able Newesse and Tythynges of the Gloryous Victorye of the 
Rhodjans agaynst the Turkes," translated from the Latin of 
G. Caoursin by JoJian Kaye (Poete Laureate). W. Caxton, 
Westminster. 
The dedication runs thus : — 

" To the most excellente, most redoubted, and most Crysten 
King, King Edward the Fourth, Johan Kaye, hys humble poete 
laureate and most lowley seruante, kneyling unto the ground, sayth 
salute." 

As, however, Edward IV. died in 1483, the work must have 
been written some years before Caxton printed it. 

Andrew (or Andrea) Bernard, a French Augustine monk, 
received the title, with a pension of ten marks, direct from the 
Crown, about i486. All the pieces written by Bernard as 
Laureate were composed in Latin, although he held office as 
late as the reign of Henry VI IL 

Prior to the appointment of Bernard very little regularity 
appears to have been observed, and it is impossible to clearly 
distinguish the Royal Laureates from the numerous university 
poets who received that title. 

From the time of Andrew Bernard, about i486, to that of 
Ben Jonson in 1616, several Royal Laureates were appointed, 
but without any legal or poetical ceremony, and in most cases 
without any fixed emolument. 

It is usual, therefore, to style Jonson's predecessors ]'^olu?i- 
teer Laureates, he being the first to receive the title and 
pension by Letters Patent under the great seal, bearing date 
at Westminster, the first day of February, in the thirteenth 
year of the reign of King James, i.e., 161 6. 

The pension then granted was 100 marks of lawful money 
per annum, during his life, but soon after the accession of 
Charles I., Ben Jonson petitioned for an increase, and new 
Letters Patent were issued, dated March, 1630. 

After reciting the previous grant, the Patent proceeds : — 

" Know yee nowe, that wee, for divers good considerations vs at 
this present especially movinge, and in consideration of the good 
and acceptable service done vnlo vs and our said father by the said 



THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 13 

Benjamin Johnson, and especially to encourage him to proceede in 
those services of his witt and penn, which wee have enjoined vnto 
him, and which we expect from him, are graciously pleased to 
augment and increase the said annuitie or pension of loo marks, 
vnto an annuitie of loo pounds of lawful money of England for his 
life. . . . And further know yee, that wee of our more especial 
grace, certen knowledge and meer motion, have given and granted, 
and by these presents for us, our heires and successors, do give and 
graunt unto the said Benjamin Johnson, and his assigns, one terse of 
Canary Spanish wine yearly ; to have, hold, perceive, receive, and 
take the said terse of Canary Spanish wine unto the said Benjamin 
Johnson and his assigns during the term of his natural life, out of our 
store of wines yearly, and from time to time remayninge at or in 
our cellars within or belonging to our palace of Whitehall." En- 
dorsed, — Expl. apud Wesim. vicesimo sexto die Martii anno R. Ris 
Cafoli quinto. 

The successors of Ben Jonson were Sir William Davenant, 
John Dryden,Thomas Shadwell, Nahum Tate, Nicholas Rovve, 
Laurence Eusden, Colley Gibber, William Whitehead, Thomas 
Warton, Henry James Pye, Robert Southey, William 
Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson. 

Our Court Poets Laureate have never been solemnly 
crowned in public, nor have any examinations ever been held 
to inquire into the fitness of candidates for the post. 

Political feeling has more frequently influenced the selec- 
tion than poetical merit, and although the appointment has 
in most cases been held for life, Dryden was displaced on the 
accession of William III., and Nahum Tate lost the office 
on the death of Queen Anne, being succeeded by Rowe, who 
was in favour with George L 

Until the appointment of Shadwell by King William IIL 
there were no official duties attached to the office, but he 
commenced to perform a certain duty by composing an ode 
to the Sovereign on his birthday, and another on New Year's 
Day, and such odes were regularly written by all his suc- 
cessors down to the year 1813, when on the death of H. J. 
Pye the custom fell into disuse. 



14 THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 

The Laureate odes were sung to music, composed by 
the Court musician, in St. James's Palace, before the 
Sovereign and Court. 

The Queen of the United Kingdom is probably the only 
Sovereign in the Christian world who does not hold a State 
reception on New Year's Day, and it is somewhat difficult to 
account for the decline of all ceremonial observances on the 
opening of the new year. Our ancestors appear to have 
carried matters to the other extreme ; costly presents were 
given and accepted, the lawyers used to wait upon the 
Lord Chancellor, each man bringing with him a bag of 
gold as tribute ; the Lord Mayor of London, with the 
Aldermen and Masters of the different City Companies, 
carried gifts of their special wares to the Sovereign, wine and 
beer being always included amongst the offerings ; and the 
Poet Laureate used to compose an ode which was set to 
music by the Court musician, and sung before the King 
and Royal Family. 

Many of these courtly festivities were suspended during the 
long illnesses of George IIL, some of them have never been 
revived, and the birthday odes and New Year's odes ceased 
to be performed a short time before the office of Laureate 
was conferred upon Robert Southey. 

The present Poet Laureate has occasionally written poems 
laudatory of members of the Royal Family, but these have 
been voluntary offerings, and issued at irregular intervals. 



NOTES ON THE EMOLUMENTS OF THE OFFICE. 

1 25 1. Henry III. grants 100 shillings per annum to Henri 
d'Avranches, the King's Versifier. 

1368. Edward HI. grants a daily pitcher of wine to Geoffrey 
Chaucer, to be charged on the Port of London. 

Shortly after his accession Richard II. commuted that allowance 
for an annual payment of twenty marks. 

November, i486. Henry VII. grants a pension of ten marks to 
Andrew Bernard, Poet Laureate and Historiographer Royal. 



THE ORIGIN OF THE OFFICE OF POET LAUREATE. 15 

1591. Queen Elizabeth grants a yearly pension of ^50 to Edmund 
Spenser, to commence February, 1591. 

February, 1615-1616. James I. grants a pension of 100 marks to 
Ben Jonson. 

1630. Charles I. appoints Ben Jonson to be Poet Laureate by 
Royal Letters Patent, with ^100 pension and an annual allowance 
of a butt of canary, commencing March, 1630. 

As City Poet Ben Jonson for many years received a pension of 
100 nobles. 

1660. In the list of the King's household at the Restoration no 
mention is made of a Poet Laureate. Davenant nominally held the 
l)ost, but probably received no direct salary. 

1670. More than two years elapsed between the death of Davenant 
and the grant of Letters Patent to Dryden in August, 1670. 

i6<S5. James IL disallows the annual butt of sack, but increases 
Dryden 's pension. 

On the flight of James IL, Dryden loses his offices and retires into 
private life. 

1688. William III. appoints Thomas Shadwell his Poet Laureate, 
with ;!^ioo a year and the allowance of wine. 

These continue to be granted to each succeeding Laureate, until 
the appointment of Henry James Pye in 1790, when he accepts 
an annual payment of ^27 in lieu of the butt of sack. 

1702. On the accession of Queen Anne, Nahum Tate was re- 
appointed Laureate, and was also named Historiographer Royal, the 
latter post carrying a pension of ;^20o a year. 

1714. The office of Poet Laureate being placed in the gift of the 
Lord Chamberlain (as it still is), it was necessary to reappoint 
Mr. Nahum Tate. 







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